June 20, 2019, Patriarch Filaret plans to hold a local church council, which should restore the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP). In fact, Filaret is going to zeroize what ex-president Petro Poroshenko has been working on for so long. After all, the UOC-KP became the foundation on which a new united Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) was created. Destroying the foundation, Filaret risks collapsing the entire structure. But it seems that the patriarch is of little concern.
Chronicle of recent events
For a better understanding of what is happening with the OCU now, let us recall the recent events unfolded.
December 15, a Unification Council was held in Ukraine, where delegates from the UOC-KP and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) were present. It was decided to liquidate these two institutions, or rather, to merge them into a single Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The new church received the status of a metropolis (not the patriarchy, and as it turned out later, Filaret was not satisfied with this) and direct obedience to the Ecumenical Patriarchate. On the occasion of this event, the OCU received Tomos of autocephaly, a kind of “passport”, which confirmed the existence of an independent Ukrainian church. Unification Council delegates also decided that the Metropolitan Epifaniy would head OCU.
After Tomos arrived in Ukraine (Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew handed it to Epifaniy and Petro Poroshenko on January 5, 2019), the authorities used it for their pre-election hype. Poroshenko brought the document to Ukraine’s large cities, and it received the ironic name “Poroshenko’s Tomos-Tour.”
January 30, 2019, the Ministry of Justice officially registered the OCU, and the registration of the UOC-KP and the UAOC was not canceled. There was an incomprehensible legal conflict, but no one dealt with it two months before the first round of the presidential elections. The parallel existence of two supposedly liquidated and one newly created church itself carried certain threats. These threats occurred immediately after the second round of the presidential elections when it became clear that the main lobbyist for Tomos and the unification of the churches - Petro Poroshenko - had left the government.
The separation in the new church began with the fact that on May 8 OCU bishops received Filaret’s invitation for a "brotherly meeting" printed on letterheads of the Kyiv Patriarchate. This was perceived as a kind of challenge, especially against the background that Metropolitan Epifaniy did not receive such an invitation at all. "Brotherly meeting" was to be held on May 14 in Volodymyr Cathedral in Kyiv. Actually, it took place there, but only 4 bishops out of 60 invited arrived to meet the primate. Metropolitan Epifaniy ignored the meeting.
Meanwhile, Patriarch Filaret explained to his four guests the key purpose of his actions. Filaret said for the Ukrainian church to be equidistant from any centers of influence. As a result, it turned out that, having escaped from under the authority of Moscow, which was trying to lead Ukrainian Orthodoxy, the Russian church became dependent on Constantinople. “We will continue to fight for the united Local Orthodox Church, independent of either Moscow or Constantinople,” Filaret concluded. Newly-created OCU, headed by Epifaniy, answered that a return to the Kyiv Patriarchate “is a return to isolation.” Patriarch Filaret did not explain how he imagines a completely independent church, because the churches have a certain hierarchy and are subject to it.
(It should be noted that none of the local Orthodox churches, except Constantinople, have recognized the autocephaly of the Ukrainian church. The Russian Orthodox Church did not recognize the decision on autocephaly and broke off ties with the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate), which does not recognize OCU, continues to operate in Ukraine. - ed.)
Filaret stubbornly clings to the existence of the UOC-KP. “Only the one who created it can liquidate the Kyiv Patriarchate,” he says, hinting that the future fate of the Kyiv Patriarchate is in his hands. "Tomos was given to the metropolis, but we want to have patriarchy," he adds.
It was expected that Filaret would de facto retain his chief seat, although Epifaniy would be the de jure head of the church. However, the latter does not intend to share his power. In one of his interviews, Epifaniy states that he respects the 90-year-old primate, but he does not agree with some of his statements.
"If we knew the content [of Tomos] then, we would not vote for autocephaly on December 15, 2018. Because we do not need to switch from one dependence to another," Filaret confessed.
Escalation of the conflict
“We were tricked,” Filaret repeated again in a recent interview. “They gave us Tomos about autocephaly, seduced us, and Tomos prescribed the dependence of the Ukrainian Church on the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Now I’d like to conduct a local church council in order to approve the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, which would be independent of Moscow and Constantinople. At first, it will be small, but Kyiv Patriarchate would again grow into a big one. It’s an independent church. The OCU was an unrecognized church, and it remains in this status."
"Epifaniy has changed. He promised that he would be primate and would represent the Ukrainian church at the foreign level. And I would lead the Ukrainian Orthodox Church inside, together with him. He does not communicate with me, does not call me. He only met with me several times, but we did not talk about the church issues, but about the weather. We should discuss our church matters, but he doesn’t want to discuss them with me. Now he started a war against me — he even withdraws the guards... In order to show that he is a primate, and Patriarch Filaret is over. He wants to show to the authorities, that he is the head of the Ukrainian Church, not the patriarch."
Epifaniy comments on all the complaints in quite a restrained manner: "Since I have seen that the honorable patriarch does not want to find a compromise, but puts ultimatums only, and I have seen that power ambitions destroy what was created, we now communicate only through the media."
Meanwhile, sociologists measured the ratings of both fathers of the church and came to the conclusion that Epifaniy’s popularity is higher. According to the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, 36.5% of respondents support the appointment of Metropolitan Epifaniy as head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, and only 15.5% "vote" for Patriarch Filaret. 45.8% of the respondents could not determine their attitude to this problem at all, and another 2.2% have their own candidates in mind.
However, the level of popularity of both primates within the Ukrainian community is not a determining factor in modeling the future fate of the OCU and the UOC-KP. It is important how Constantinople would react to these conflicts, but it has not commented on the situation yet.
However, Ecumenical Patriarch might prefer simply not to notice Filaret’s demarche, since his idea of restoring the UOC-KP can be considered a private initiative, and such an initiative might be punished. But this is already an internal affair of the OCU, and Filaret is its bishop. On the other hand, “it is possible that OCU will say that the situation is complex and ambiguous, and they will ask the Ecumenical Patriarchate to take over consideration,” Dmytro Gorevoy, religious scholar, suggests.
He adds that when “for example, several people, several hierarchs who, incidentally, have a high level of toxicity, come out of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, it can, on the contrary, even contribute to a good climate in the OCU, because a certain ‘purification’ will occur.”
The last nuance in this story is related to Presidential Administration and Volodymyr Zelensky’s reaction to the church events. In his inaugural speech, the newly elected head of state did not say a word about Tomos, and even during the time since his election, he showed no interest in this topic. The indifference of Zelensky’s team in Tomos could be easily explained. “Filaret’s statements will in no way affect the ratings of politicians or parties. In the context of a parliamentary campaign, the voters expect some solutions to socio-economic, not ideological or church problems,” political analyst Viktor Taran comments.
Perhaps Zelensky will be the first leader to self-withdraw from this issue. And, perhaps, at the time of the completion of the parliamentary campaign, the situation with the churches will be stabilized in one way or another.